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Many dead after mid-air collision

Wreckage from the collision Keystone

Around 71 people - most of them children - are feared dead after a Russian passenger airliner collided with a cargo plane at over 11,000 metres. Both planes were under the guidance of the Swiss air traffic controller, Skyguide.

The two aircraft, a Tupolev 154 charter aircraft belonging to Russia’s Bashkirian Airlines and a Boeing 757 owned by the freight company, DHL, crashed late on Monday night, scattering burning debris across more than 30 kilometres of southern Germany.

Rescue workers have recovered 15 bodies from the crash site, just north of Lake Constance, near the Swiss-German border.

A spokesman for Bashkirian Airlines said most of the victims were schoolchildren heading to Spain for a holiday.

Shattered debris and burning wreckage was reported across a broad area. Eyewitnesses reported hearing a loud “thundering” noise from above the clouds, followed by a fireball.

Crash in Swiss-controlled air space

Skyguide, the Swiss air traffic control service monitoring the Tupolev at the time of impact, said Zurich-based traffic controllers issued three warnings to the Russian crew.

Skyguide spokesman Toni Maag said the first warning was issued while the jet was eight to ten miles, or 90 seconds, away from the impact point – within what it described as “normal” aviation safety margins.

At the same time, Maag said an automatic warning system on board the Boeing was activated, alerting its crew to the approaching Topolev and instructing the pilot to loose altitude.

Maag said the Tupolev crew only reacted at the third warning, after which it also initiated a steep descent.

Moments later, at 11:35pm (local time), the two aircraft impacted.

The German air traffic control service, DFS, said the responsibility for the Tupolev had been handed to Skyguide, without “any particular incident”, minutes before the crash.

Nickolai Odegov, CEO of Bashkirian Airlines, said the Tupolev crew followed all instructions from Skyguide, and that the pilots were “very experienced”.

No survivors

There are expected to be no survivors from the two aircraft.

A spokesman from Moscow’s Domodedovo airport told agencies that about 50 of the Tupolev passengers were either children or teenagers.

German police earlier said that the Russian aircraft was carrying 57 passengers, including 12 crew members.

The Boeing was carrying a pilot and co-pilot.

There are no reports of any fatalities or injuries of people on the ground.

The Tupolev was a charter carrying holidaymakers en route from Moscow to the Spanish city of Barcelona. It crashed shortly after making a routine stop in Munich.

The Boeing was travelling from Bahrain, via the Italian city of Bergamo, to Brussels.

Raining wreckage

While there remains no definitive explanation for the cause of the crash, rescue workers have recovered the flight data recorder from one of the aircraft.

Several hundred people are scouring the area for victims and examining wreckage.

Some 15 boats criss-crossed Lake Constance amid reports that large parts of the Boeing had crashed into the water.

The Swiss Accident Investigation Bureau has launched a probe, while two helicopters from the Swiss Rescue Service, Rega, travelled to the area to assist in search operations.

Swiss safety and rescue authorities are assisting the search.

One German television reporter described how families were staring white-faced with shock at pieces of burning wreckage in their gardens. One family was sitting in their yard when aircraft wheels crashed into it.

Ludger Hoevelmann, a receptionist at a hotel in Überlingen, said she heard what she thought was the start of a thunderstorm.

“Colleagues told me they heard a huge bang, then saw a red fireball and some large parts of wreckage fall to the ground,” she said.

Transport minister Müller said neither of the aircraft had been carrying dangerous goods.

swissinfo with agencies/developing story

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR